VAR SUPPLEMENT: Lucas Bessire on Video Workshops
The essay “Glimpses of Emergence in the Ayoreo Video Project” describes scenes from a recent Indigenous video workshop in Paraguay, to comment on the forms of perception, imagery, and experience that emerged in the workshop encounter. The aim of the essay is to write difference through such emergent visual forms in order to craft a larger argument about the visual economies and political lexicons of the present. Drawing from my first experience participating in a video workshop, it asks how such workshops may collude with the open-endedness of self and world, to inspire new directions for ethnographic thinking, writing and living.
The best way to further explore the argument is to host a video workshop of your own. Here, I’d like to share some tips for those of you who may be interested in the workshop form, as a site of concrete activity or a thought experiment or both.
- Gather a small group or groups of people. It may be easiest if you already know each other or share some basic points of reference, but it is not required.
- Task the group with creating filmic or video imagery that will convey something fundamental about yourselves and your shared worlds to others. You can assign roles, or not. One person can shoot, you can pass the camera around, or all of you can shoot at the same time with multiple cameras.
- Before shooting, discuss the project until you find a topic, theme, value or question you actually care about and believe is central to who you are as a group. If not, it won’t work.
- Then, pick a video or film format. It may be easiest to choose a medium that you do not regularly use, or one with an unfamiliar technical limitation, such as Super 8, but any will do.
- Start with a handful of practice exercises oriented toward representing discrete elements that you anticipate including in your subsequent shooting, such as a character, a process, a color or a mood. After you’ve experimented with your style, then proceed to approaching the topic through sequences and scenes.
- As your group films, think about provoking and staging as much as finding and revealing. Try to experiment with forms of shooting that use the camera to catalyze, conjure or visualize otherwise latent dynamics, such as the techniques of ethno-fiction, reenactment or docu-fiction.
- Shoot daily over a span of at least three weeks, if not longer. It is important to not pre-edit these shoots. Improvise, cover, adjust and save big editorial decisions for later.
- Screen what you shoot as often as possible, preferably every day or two. If your theme relates to or claims to represent wider communities, include them in these screenings, too.
- Keep a detailed written journal or diary of the entire process. In it, document your decisions, what is happening, what is surprising or not, and reflect on your role in the process.
Once the workshop concludes, you will probably need a break before you decide if you wish to proceed to editing or not. Regardless, this is a good moment to reflect on the workshop experience by reviewing your journal, and watching some films created in a similar way, as in the case of Ateliers Varan or the stunning work produced by Video Nas Aldeias. (While some of this work is hard to find, you can stream much of it through many university libraries.) This is also an opportune time to organize a reading group to revisit the questions posed by many visual anthropologists, such as:
- How does this kind of reflexive video work also become an “art of living,” by troubling, exceeding or enhancing ways of knowing, feeling and relating? Was it fun or not?
- Did the video workshop intensify any subjective contingencies, expressive possibilities or concept-making energies of your everyday life, or not? If so, how?
- What, if anything, about your experiment surprised you? Did it destabilize any presumptions you had about yourself, others or the world? What did it make you think about imagery?
- What happened when you tried to write about your video experiments? Which elements of the experience were easily accommodated in the written form of your diary, and which seemed to defy textual limits? What might that suggest about ethnographic genres more generally?
- Finally, what did you learn about the politics of video making, and its potentials to change social worlds?